A Diamond in the Rough
Oklahoma Electric Cooperative employees help restore community baseball fields
Two years ago, the baseball fields at Amber-Pocasset sat dark, empty, both run down and overgrown. Today, the manicured diamonds shine brightly, filled with the sounds of cheering, laughter and the hopeful crack of baseball leather meeting an aluminum bat.
This “field” good story is a result of two Oklahoma Electric Cooperative employees volunteering time, expertise and sweat equity to help a baseball community come alive again.
From left to right: Jared Voegeli and Travis Jones | Photo by Hayley Leatherwood
Toward the western edge of the co-op’s service territory is where you’ll find the towns of Amber and Pocasset, commonly referred to as “Am-Po.” Jared Voegeli, apprentice journeyman vegetation management, and Travis Jones, apprentice power lineman, noticed the kids in the towns would have to drive 45 minutes to an hour away if they wanted to play ball. In addition to the time restraints, the expenses of bigger city leagues also created a barricade to entry for the small-town kids to play.
Jones and his wife, Kiersten, had recently adopted their niece, Peyton. She and Voegeli’s daughter became fast friends. The experience created a shift in Jones’ mentality.
“Your goals and dreams start to change into what her life is going to be like and what her dreams and reality can become,” Jones says. “She loves ball, and I know it’s a great way to help a lot of kids find focus and keep out of trouble.”
With their girls as their inspiration, they went to work.
From left to right: Kiersten, Petyon and Travis Jones | Photo by Hayley Leatherwood
Three months in advance of the first pitch, the families were bringing their tractors to do dirt work. The bleachers were rotted through and falling apart. The fences were completely torn up as well. As they began working, the community started to rally around them.
Individual families donated chain link for a fence, the school paid for the wood to redo the bleachers, and Oklahoma Electric Cooperative donated the poles for the field.
Jones and Voegeli also did plumbing work in the bathrooms and repainted the dugouts and the concession stand. The two made trips to the grocery store, filling up both their vehicles to the brim to stock the concessions.
Jones sent out a simple Facebook message asking for sign-ups, and in a short time the league was overflowing. More than 100 kids signed up to play. Community members began filling roles as coaches and umpires as well.
“We met with all the coaches and told them we’re just having fun. We want it to be as stress-free as possible,” Voegeli says. “Let the kids be outside, learn some team building skills and hand-eye coordination.”
Jared Voegeli and his daughter, Paylinn | Photo courtesy of Jared Voegeli
The idea was a grand slam. There was enough involvement the league could handle spring and fall T-ball, baseball and softball. The league, now in its second season, has doubled in participation.
One of those T-ball players is Jaxton Ray Bratcher. His great-grandmother, Jeanie Singleton, can make the easy drive to watch his games. She expressed her gratitude to the employees in a letter to Patrick Grace, OEC CEO.
“I am writing you to thank you and those two employees for their insight and hard work creating those fields,” the OEC member wrote. “I think I have only missed one game during the season. It’s been a pleasure watching them play.”
The two were recently recognized by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives as the recipients of the “Above and Beyond” award. Jones and Voegeli emphasize they did not take on this project for any recognition. They say they merely wanted to make a small difference in their corner of the world.
As the sun sets on an evening full of play, families pack up their crews to make their short drives home. The lights may turn off for the night, but seeing the smiles light up on the parents’ and grandparents’ faces, it’s almost as if the true magic of baseball is making everyone feel like they are kids again.